CANDLES and Christmas go hand-in-glove but the music is anything but an afterthought when it comes to preparing the annual Candlelit Christmas Concert Tour.
David Haslam, conductor, composer and musician, conducts the 20-strong English Philharmonic Ensemble whose accomplished players are drawn from the English Philharmonic Orchestra (EPO) which is gaining a reputation around the country.
The concert tour, which begins tomorrow in Hexham Abbey, was started by David and fellow musician Annamaria McCool in the year 2000 as a more sophisticated seasonal alternative to communal carols.
The concerts, all in wonderful ecclesiastical settings, do feature carols but they also feature works by Handel, Corelli, Vivaldi ... and Haslam.
David says: “I did an arrangement of O Holy Night (the carol composed in 1847 by Frenchman Adolphe Adam) for a church choir, The Singers, but also with an orchestra and an operatic voice.
“It worked very well and we got a lot of requests for it to be included again.”
That operatic voice is supplied by charismatic Cornish mezzo-soprano Suzanne Manuell who will be familiar to audiences of the annual North East Last Night of the Proms concert at Newcastle City Hall and for her own spring recital at the Civic Centre.
David conducts the EPO at the Proms which is where the relationship began. The chance to hear Suzanne sing in a church setting is just one of the appealing aspects of this tour.
David also composed the Kyrie and the Gloria – elements of the religious Mass – which appear on the programme this year.
Partly, he confesses, this was to make the most of Suzanne’s presence – she drove all the way from Cornwall to the North East last year – and her wonderful voice.
“First I wrote just a kyrie for chorus but it became apparent that this sort of combination – ensemble, chorus, operatic soprano – was going to be popular.”
Among the musicians in the ensemble this year is violinist Tristan Gurney who began his career with Northern Sinfonia and is now leader of the highly-regarded Edinburgh Quartet, founded in 1960.
The EPO, which dates from 1996, has recently worked with the composer Benjamin Till on a BBC project called 100 Faces and in the summer performed a Last Night of the Proms-style concert in Chiswick.
David is delighted that the orchestra is being recognised and equally pleased that the Candlelit Christmas Concert Tour has spawned a permanent choir.
Last year The Singers, the accomplished North East choir, couldn’t make the trip to East Yorkshire so a scratch choir, conducted by Alan Spedding, was formed for the Beverley concert.
“They stayed together because everyone enjoyed singing in a choir so much,” says David.
This year The Singers will perform at three of the concerts while The Beverley Singers fulfil choral duties in the minster.
The 2012 itinerary features Hexham Abbey tomorrow, Beverley Minster on Saturday, St Cuthbert’s Church, Carlisle, on Sunday and St George’s Church, Jesmond, on Monday, all at 7.30pm. For Hexham call 01434 652220, for Jesmond call 0191 277 8000. See all ticket details on www.candlelitconcerts.com